"Of The Knowledge of Truth"
The Imitation of Christ - Thomas à Kempis
"The more simplicity a man has within himself, the more things and the deeper things he understands, and that without hard work, because he receives the light of understanding from above. The spirit that is pure, sincere, and steadfast is not distracted though it has much work to do, because it does all things for the honour of God and strives to be free from all thoughts of self-seeking. A person who is good and devout determines beforehand within his own heart the work he has to do, and so is not drawn away by the desires of his selfish will but subjects everything to the judgement of right reason. Who has a harder battle to fight than he who strives for self-mastery?
This should be our endeavour:
to master self and thus daily grow stronger than self and strive for perfection.
All perfection has some imperfection joined to it in this life. A lowly knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than the deep searchings of man's learning. Not that learning is to be avoided nor the taking account of anything that is good; but a good conscience and a holy life is better than all. And, because many seek knowledge rather than good living, they go astray and bear little or no fruit.
How many perish through empty learning in this world who care little for serving God. And, because they love to be great more than to be humble, they have become "futile in their thoughts"
(Romans 1:21). He only is truly great who has great love. He is truly great who considers himself small. He is the truly wise man who considers all earthly things as garbage that he may gain Christ. And, he is the truly learned man who does the will of God and forsakes his own will."
I am intrigued by the question, "How does one become stronger than one's self?"
It seems a counter-cultural word in a milieux where so many characters are daily devoted to the improvement and empowerment of the self. We are used to the idea that their is something wrong with our current self, but the perscription generally offered is to become a better, stronger self by undertaking the proper disciplines or consuming the correct amount of a product.
Unless I have him wrong, à Kempis runs the other way with the problem. The solution to that which is wrong with my "self" is not to obsess over a cure or undertake a program of betterment, but to avoid fascination with self all together.
As he struggled to find true freedom worthy of the gospel, Martin Luther picked up on evocative language for the nature of this sinful fascination developed hundreds of years earlier by Augustine of Hippo: se incurvatus in se (self curved in upon self).
Our (Lutheran) order of baptism includes the following three big no's by way of a profession of faith before expounding the three big yes' of the Apostle's Creed:
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? I renounce them.
So, how does one become stronger than one's self? By paying more attention to the good relationships we have been created for in the first place - right relations with God and right relations with our neighbours. In the end, only life enriched by these relationships is fertile enough to give rise to an authentic self. Anything else, is a hall of mirrors.
Today I hear God saying to me, "I see you. I love you."
As I steep in my Creator's unconditional favour, I am set free to exit the hall of fun house mirrors that exists inside my psyche. Outside of myself, I am captivated by the simply profound beauty of the creatures God has placed me alongside. The world outside myself is infinitely more interesting than the cell of my own obsessions and insecurities.
Today I hear God saying to me, "Look around you. Explore, celebrate and serve."
What a delight to follow these marching orders. They have already led me into several fascinating interactions today. I have learned about rare auto-immune disorders, changing educational theories and methodologies, computer programming, foxes, Harry Potter and ...
What about you?
What are the vistas God is eager to show you just beyond the threshold of self?
Jesus, for freedom you have set us free. Grant us grace to stand in this freedom and not to revert again into curved in postures of slavery. And, when we do, visit us in these prisons of our own willfulness and give us the words of eternal life to free us once more. Amen.